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A Sweet Time In Barbados

Published: October 17, 2016

Cheryl Rock (third from right, back row) with her study abroad group poising in Barbados' Animal Flower Cave.
Cheryl Rock (third from right in the back row) with her study abroad group poising in Barbados’ Animal Flower Cave.

The Caribbean island and nation of Barbados is more than a home for Cheryl Rock, a CSULB assistant professor of food science and a faculty member of Family and Consumer Sciences since 2014. It is a classroom.

Rock, who grew up in Barbados, led 11 CSULB students there from July 29 to Aug. 12 for the dual purposes of teaching a study abroad class called “Distilling and Brewing Technology in Barbados,” offered in partnership with the campus’ Center for International Education, and of winning first place in a product development competition held under the theme, “Out with the Old and In with the New: No Added Sugars.” The competition was held Aug. 9 as part of the Barbados Food Law and Industry Conference (BFLI) 2016.

As part of the students’ experience in the course, they gained in-depth understanding and practical exposure of fermentation science in the brewing of beer (Banks Breweries) and distilled spirits (i.e., rum) at the oldest existing distillery (Mount Gay) in the world where they performed sensory evaluation techniques in assessing the quality of distilled products.

The students also explored Barbados in three tiers—riding in island safari 4×4 jeeps, traveling 106 feet underground in the Harrison’s Cave and being submerged 148 feet under the ocean in the Atlantis submarine to explore how Barbados was formed. Additionally, students were able to develop critical and reflective perspectives by experiencing the people and culture of Barbados through cultural events such as the “Crop over Festival” which celebrates the end of the sugar cane season.

At the conference, contestants from CSULB minoring in food science and majoring in nutrition joined the competition with the University of the Southern Caribbean-Barbados and the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, to design products with no added sugars. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration proposed changes to nutrition facts on food labels which would highlight servings per container as well as detail the amount of added sugars, among other modifications. The incorporation of an added sugars tab to the new label illustrates the current challenge with overconsumption of added sugars which have been linked to type 2 diabetes and related chronic illnesses.

Rock’s two teams of students won with their one-two punch of the Prana Bar, a fruit bar combining naturally dried fruits such as dates, pecans and raisins but no added sugars, and the Mango Cocoa Loco that mixed dried and fresh mangoes with coconut to create a filling for a gluten-free bar.

“The whole idea of the competition was for the students to create a food product that was naturally sweet with no added sugar, while harmonizing the theme of Food, Law and Science,” Rock explained. “Experts believe that increased intake of foods that contain added sugars augment total calorie intake while reducing intake of nutrient-dense foods. Therefore, with proper regulation of food ingredients and the development/reformulation of food products without added sugar would be significant as it is anticipated that consumers may begin to choose foods with little or no added sugars once the proposed food label takes effect by 2018.

“All whole food, particularly fruits, contains natural sugar,” she continued. “When you bite into a piece of fruit it tastes sweet. But if you squeeze out the juice and add more table sugar to it or other sweeteners like honey or agave to make it taste sweeter, you have added sugars. Added sugars are believed to be affiliated with the higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes. There is a hormone, insulin, which allows sugar to be absorbed by our cells for energy. But if you consume too much added sugar in the diet, what happens? The body has to create more insulin to compensate, consequently developing insulin resistance. That is why sugar remains in the blood and make an individual at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

At the BFLI Conference, which had a theme of “Stepping up to the Plate? Global Collaboration in Food Law Regulations,” Rock presented her interest in the threat of “food fraud.” She noted that food safety and integrity has become a worldwide concern as globalization has resulted in a more complex food supply and food chain.

“This is due to the fact that the food on our plate is sourced from many countries across the globe which may contain ingredients or additives making it difficult for consumers to verify how the ingredients and food stuff is produced,” she said. “As a result, ‘food fraud’ has become one of the biggest threats to the integrity of the global food supply which may include, but is not limited to the production of counterfeit groceries, changing expiration dates on food packaging and adding non-food additives such as anti-freeze as a sweetener.”

To Rock, the lesson is clear.

“We eat to survive but there must be rules in place to regulate food products,” she said. “First, you could be allergic to a food ingredient. If you do not have a law that regulates that food product in terms of its ingredients, then death could result. Second, for the sake of economic gain, some companies, under pressure to make money, use cheaper ingredients because they think no one will recognize it. That is why we have legislation such as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, and the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The goal of food law is to protect consumers from fraudulent activity in the food industry.”

In 2015, Rock visited Barbados for three months. For six weeks, she hosted free food science and nutrition workshops for a local community with a high incidence of type 2 diabetes in an effort to provide transparency to consumers about what’s on their plate.

“Barbados has a very high amputee rate,” she said. “I grew up in Barbados and I have always wanted to return and share what I’ve learned in my professional training and what I teach my students at CSULB,” she stated. “My service to CSULB mission serves as a strong justification to educate my students about my cultural heritage in Barbados, in developing their cultural competencies and international experience.”